We are all hypocrites to one degree or other. I know, for example, that I preach objectivity and open-mindedness but there are some issues on which my views are pretty well established and almost unchangeable. I also follow a pretty healthy lifestyle in general but will sometimes eat or drink things I know I shouldn’t. I think we all are guilty of similar hypocrisy.
What I want to discuss is blatant, over-the-top hypocrisy that has apparently become part of our daily political and social discourse. It’s almost as if the truth and honesty have become secondary. Examples are numerous.
- “Insider trading” occurs when someone trades stock based on information unavailable to the general public. It has been illegal for Americans to engage in insider trading since 1934 when laws were passed after the stock market crash. Guess what? The laws did not apply to members of Congress and members of both parties apparently benefitted from inside information prior to the 2008 stock market mini-crash. A 60 MInutes report in 2012 found Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Republican leader John Boehner among the offenders and The Wall Street Journal identified 72 members of Congress who benefitted. After the activity was exposed Congress passed a law restricting insider trading by members of Congress and their staff. Great! Except Congress later repealed important parts of the law by “unanimous consent” on a Friday afternoon after most members were gone for the week. Yep…that is hypocritical. You may remember that Martha Stewart went to prison for insider trading.
- While addressing a United Steel Workers event in 2010 Nancy Pelosi (House Democratic Minority Leader) said “We’re talking about addressing the disparity in our country of income, where the wealthy people continue to get wealthier. That disparity is not just about wages alone. That disparity is about ownership and equity. It’s all about fairness in our country.” Finally, a political leader doing everything she can to fight the broad gap in wealth disparity! Except that Pelosi’s 2015 income disclosure places her in the top .0001 of Americans (yes, that is the top 1/10 of the top 1%). She lives in a multi-million dollar townhouse in DC, owns several other properties, owns a vineyard in Napa Valley, and more.
- Of course President Trump’s hypocrisy is also well known. On three occasions he tweeted criticism of Barak Obama for golfing, yet in his first 30 days in office he played golf six times for a total of 26 hours on the course. In 2013 Trump tweeted that it was “unbelievable” that taxpayers were funding Obama’s vacations, yet his three trips to Mar-a-Lago in less than a month cost taxpayers $10 million (not to mention the amount spent sending his son and others on “trade missions” to cool locations). In 2012 he tweeted that “the electoral college is a disaster for democracy” but after winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote he tweeted that “The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!”. I could write a hundred posts about President Trump’s hypocrisy, but I’ve previously let readers know how I feel about him as a president and human being so I’ll let it go.
- In 2008 Barak Obama accused President Bush of being “a president who only saw the people from the window of an airplane, instead of down here on the ground trying to provide comfort and aid” because after hurricane Katrina Bush flew over damaged areas rather than landing and visiting New Orleans. Then last year when Baton Rouge and other areas were suffering from historic flooding and damage Obama remained on Martha’s Vineyard watching fireworks and playing golf.
- OK. One more from President Trump. He has repeatedly criticized federal judges who ruled against his decisions. He called one a “so-called” judge, disparaged another for his Hispanic name and heritage, and said judges would be to blame if terrorists attack us again. Even Neil Gorsuch, president Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, responded that “When anyone criticizes the honesty, integrity, the motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening, I find that demoralizing, because I know the truth.” If President Trump finds judges inadequate we could expect him to appoint exceptionally qualified judges when these vacancies occur. Right? Well…he has now nominated 36 year old Brett Talley, an Alabama attorney who has never actually tried a case in court, to fill a vacancy in that state. The American Bar Association rated Talley “not qualified”. Remember that these are lifetime appointments.
- Thankfully we can trust our religious and spiritual leaders to be morally and ethically consistent. But wait! In 2001 Rev. Jesse Jackson admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock and just last week was accused of recent sexual harassment. And remember when Rev. Ted Haggard, the fundamentalist minister who preached against homosexuality, admitted having sexual relations with a younger man? Or when Rev. Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute after accusing other ministers of sexual indiscretion? Or that miracle healer Peter Popoff, who knew intimate details about members of his audience because he was in touch with God, was actually getting that information via a receiver in his ear (his wife was telling him what to say). Remember Jim Bakker?
I could continue offering examples of such blatant hypocrisy using political, spiritual, and social leaders, but I feel certain you understand. The question is how do we respond to such hypocrisy?
Cambridge University historian and politics professor David Runciman concludes that we should accept the fact that anyone we elect to office is a hypocrite. Politics cannot ever be completely sincere because those running for office have an agenda (to be elected) and will bend the truth and offer insincere ideas to garner votes. And we know they are not telling us the truth because their claims are so unbelievable. Runciman also considers lying a form of hypocrisy. He concludes that we just have to decide which hypocrite/liar we will elect because they are all hypocrites and liars. Our challenge, he says, is to distinguish between harmful and harmless hypocritical statements. His take on last year’s presidential election is quite interesting.
If we accept Runciman’s arguments we must do the same with all our leaders; decide which are the most harmful and which harmless. This notion flies in the face of my generally optimistic nature, but I’m not sure I can argue against it these days. Can you convince me otherwise?